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Director: Erica Russell
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Six years after ‘Feet of Song‘ Erica Russell returned with another extraordinarily beautiful dance film, this time using three dancers in a triangular relationship.

During most of the dance two women compete for a man, and the film features several dances between the man and either one of the women, the two women together, and, in the end, all three together.

The fluency of the movement combined with the elegance of Russell’s paintwork make the film a delight to watch. During most of the film the three dancers remain recognizable as human forms, but at times they change into almost abstract forms, with a strong Bauhaus influence.

Despite the high level of abstraction ‘Triangle’ is a very sensual film, and one never loses the idea that the film is about three characters with solid bodies, no matter how sketchily drawn. Charlie Hart’s score fits the images very well with its quasi-African touch to it.

Watch ‘Triangle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Triangle’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Directors: Darren Doherty & Nick Smith
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

In ‘The Wooden Leg’ a girl is born with only one leg. One day she gets a wooden leg for Christmas, but the leg has a will of its own…

‘The Wooden Leg’ is an animation film made directly on film (apparently using a wooden twig). Thus it features very simple, but surprisingly effective designs, all consisting of white lines on a black canvas. Yet, Doherty & Smith manage to put a lot of emotion in their simply drawn characters. Despite the rather dark subject matter, the film retains a lighthearted feel and stays with the girl and her special bond with the leg. The animation is accompanied by an effective piano score by Mike Taylor.

Watch ‘The Wooden Leg’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Wooden Leg’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Brian Wood
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Mr Jessop’ tells the simple story of a man who goes to town to buy some perfume for his wife, who stays home, frantically cleaning.

This plot may not sound too interesting, but Brian Wood’s way of telling this story certainly is. In his vision even this every day action is depicted so uniquely that it becomes something completely different. In his world everybody is obsessed with looking, continuously watching each other and the products on the shelves.

The film has a very nervous atmosphere, greatly helped by the soundtrack, and at points reaches an atmosphere of pure paranoia. The animation itself too is nervous, with expressionistic images, lots of deformations, tunnel-perspectives and animated backgrounds. Wood’s drawing style is crude and expressionistic, even if it retains a certain cartoony quality. And even though the ending feels like a punchline, it’s Wood’s unusual, frantic style that stays in your head after watching the short little film.

Watch ‘Mr Jessop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mr Jessop’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Petra Freeman
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Jumping Joan’ is a dreamlike short about a girl who seems able to jump inside and outside reality.

The narrative is set around a house in the countryside, next to a forest and a river. Petra Freedman’s images are poetic and intriguing, but also very vague and incomprehensible. If there’s a story to this film I couldn’t detect it. What remains are the soft painted images of the girl moving through a garden and other-wordly places, meeting spirits of the earth, the wood and the sky, or so it seems.

The film turns particularly puzzling when the little girl drops two bunny-like creatures from under her skirt, which dance with a blue spirit, living inside a hollow tree, while the girl seems to change into some electrical firework(?) What this all might mean, remains an utter mystery to me.

Petra Freeman’s drawing style is soft, and a little spiritual. Her animation style is a bit slow, but very imaginative, and she uses a fair amount of metamorphosis to tell her story. The film is dominated by earthly reds and blacks, and the dreamlike atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the sound design, which uses strange sounds, and very little music.

Watch ‘Jumping Joan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jumping Joan’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Jonathan Hodgson
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

This hilarious little film features the most outlandish bedtime story ever put to screen.

A father starts to tell this story when his disobedient son starts hitting him with a mallet. Unusually for an animation film, the spoken tale is by far the main attraction of the film, as it winds in unpredictable directions, far from the realms of the ordinary fairy tale. But Jonathan Hodgson keeps the images interesting, as they illustrate the story, sometimes vaguely, sometimes very directly. Thus we watch the father and his son wandering on Mars, driving, in a forest and on a stage.

The film’s atmosphere is wonderfully surreal, greatly enhanced by dreamlike lighting and great timing on the otherwise rather simple, but definitely effective puppet animation. ‘Hilary’ may not have gained the fame of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ or ‘The Wrong Trousers‘, it still is one of the most enjoyable stop-motion films of the nineties.

Watch ‘Hilary’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hilary’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’ and on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set I

Director: Philip Hunt
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★
Review:

‘Ah Pook is Here’ is a short but rather pretentious film using texts by avant-garde writer William S. Burroughs on the atomic bomb.

Read by William S. Burroughs himself from the book of the same name, the film mixes computer animation and stop motion to vaguely illustrate Burrough’s texts. The film is set on a small black planet, enircled by Gods, who look like satellites and bombs. Ah Pook is the destroyer, a.k.a. the atomic bomb. On the planet lives a red-headed alien who asks another flying alien about the nature of man, the nature of death and of democracy.

Unfortunately, the images are pretty irrelevant to the text: they neither illustrate nor counter it. Moreover, Burroughs’s text is pretty disjointed itself, making this short animation film remarkably aimless. For this reason ‘Ah Pook is Here’ must be regarded a cinematic failure, despite the virtuoso mix of computer animation and stop motion.

Watch ‘Ah Pook is Here’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ah Pook is Here’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Raimond Krumme
Release Date: October, 1994
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Passage’ a man and his servant, who carries a heavy suitcase, are crossing an empty space of snow and ice. The snow and ice provide a conflict between the two, even disrupting the integrity of the two men’s bodies.

Typically for Krumme even the background space isn’t what it seems to be, with the servant hiding behind the horizon line, and several pieces of paper wrinkling during the fight. This is inventive use of the medium of animation, indeed.

Unfortunately, one can hardly tell the two men apart, who are drawn and animated the same (one has a tall hat, but the two even exchange hats at one moment). Moreover there’s hardly any story, and the film appears to stop only because Krumme seemingly runs out of ideas.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Passage’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Passage ’ is available on the DVD ‘Spatial Pandemonium – Short Films by Raimund Krumme’ and on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 9

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: September 10, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

‘Lekce Faust’ (literally ‘Lesson Faust’) is Jan Švankmajer’s second feature film. It contains much less animation than his first feature film ‘Něco z Alenky’ (Alice) from 1988 and can be considered his first live action movie.

However, this film is still much connected to his earlier work, mostly through the use of life-sized puppets, which goes all the way back to ‘Don Šajn’ (Don Juan) from 1969, and of advanced clay animation, which Švankmajer first used in ‘Možnosti dialogu’ (Dimensions of Dialogue) in 1982. Moreover, there’s little dialogue in the film, with the first lines only appearing after 15 minutes. Instead, the film relies heavily on stark imagery and exquisite sound design (there’s no musical soundtrack), just like in animation film. The English dub, by the way, is excellent, and there’s no need to find the original Czech version.

Švankmajer retells the story of Faust in his own unique way, with an inner logic that is unique to his brand of surrealism. For this Švankmajer uses texts from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s two Faust plays (1808 & 1832), as well as Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus from 1592, enhanced with text traditions from Czech puppet theater productions based on the same legend. Even a part from Charles Gounod’s opera ‘Faust’ from 1859 is used in a scene that features four ballerinas and which is probably the least essential and least successful episode in the entire film.

Importantly, the film stars an unnamed everyman (played by the deadpan Petr Čepek in his last role before his death in 1994), who’s slowly lured into the devil’s clutches. By using the most common protagonist imaginable we’re given the opportunity to live the nightmare the man experiences ourselves. There’s a sense of ‘this could happen to anyone’, with which we enter the bizarre series of events.

The film starts with two characters handing out copies of a map with a red spot but no explanation to passers-by. Our man gets one, too, and has a short look at it, before he discards the piece of paper. Nevertheless, immediately strange omens pile up around him: he watches a doll’s head getting crushed between two doors, a black chicken flees his home apartment, and when he goes eating he finds an egg inside his bread. As soon as he opens the egg, the man seems to be lost, and the next day he goes exploring…

The film mostly takes place indoors, and like in ‘Alice’ there’s a genuinely claustrophobic feel to it, with a total lack of logic with which the different spaces are connected. This of course contributes to the nightmarish atmosphere that stays throughout the feature. Nevertheless, Švankmajer occasionally returns to outdoor scenes, sometimes very abruptly, with staged sets switching to scenes taking place in nature, parks or ruins, and vice versa. But sometimes more naturally, with the man reentering the streets of Prague a couple of times.

Yet our hero never stays out of the clutches of the devils for long, and all too soon his curiosity brings him back to the theater set where he more or less has to play his part. For a long while, the man takes the whole play for a joke. It certainly doesn’t help that the part of the good angel is played by a puppet as well, making the man’s only chance to repent by all means a rather silly occasion. Thus only too late the man realizes that the devil will indeed collect his soul.

As the film progresses, the man transforms more and more into the character of Faust, and he becomes more and more a puppet himself. Indeed, several important scenes, like the signing with the blood, take place in puppet form. While the man becomes a puppet more and more himself, the puppets around him seem to behave more and more freely. First they are only seen operated by anonymous stage hands. But later we watch a devil, who’s summoned by the Jester, walking in and out of the street by himself. Later still, we can clearly see a puppet of a queen breathing, making its stagy death all the more poignant.

Like the man himself, the viewer has a hard time following the surreal course of events, but the film nevertheless progresses slowly but steadily to its logical and macabre conclusion. The film ends with the cycle starting all over again: as the man flees the devil’s place in horror, another one enters. But the man cannot escape the devil’s clutches: if the devil may not be able to take him in his puppet form, he’ll do it in real life, on the streets of Prague…

Despite the dark subject matter, there’s room for some comedy. For example, when the burning wagon rides off stage, it’s followed by a fireman in a cartoon fashion. More comic relief comes from a Jester puppet, who speaks in rhyme, and whose lines clearly come from the puppet theater tradition. In a way the Jester is smarter than his master, being able to tame a devil without losing his soul to it. Scarier, but still amusing are a bum carrying a severed leg, and the two men from the first scene, who return several times, showing their playfully mischievous characters repeatedly, e.g. making the man pay for all their beers, and stealing snacks during intermission.

Animation reoccurs throughout the film, which nevertheless remains essentially a live action movie. For animation lovers highlight is a rather unsettling scene in which the man creates life, which quickly ages and transforms into a gruesome skull. This is done in Švankmajer’s characteristic virtuoso clay animation. A highlight of puppet animation is a short scene in which little devils molest and abuse little angels in order to make Faust sign his soul away.

The Best scene of the whole film, however, features little animation. This is when the man summons Mephistopheles. This scene is full of compelling images, with brooms dusting as if they were alive, drums playing themselves, crossbows appearing from pillars, and a burning wagon circling the summoner. During this scene the scenery changes from indoor to outdoor repeatedly, with the man finding himself in the woods, on top of a mountain and on a snowy plain.

Švankmajer tests the general viewer with his typical way of filming, using extreme close-ups, virtually no dialogue, fair use of puppetry and stiff old fashioned language during the staged parts. But viewers who stay are rewarded with a deeply layered film that will cling into the back of the mind for quite a while after viewing. To me ‘Lekce Faust’ is the best of his feature films, and together with ‘Jabberwocky’ (1971) and ‘Dimensions of Dialogue’ it forms the pinnacle of the Czech master’s art.

Watch the trailer for ‘Lekce Faust’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lekce Faust’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Lynn Smith
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★½

‘Sandburg’s Arithmetic’ is a gentle if unremarkable children’s film which uses the poet Carl Sandburg’s reading of his own poem ‘Arithmetic’ as its basis.

Smith illustrates the poem with painted animation images of birds, children, numbers and a zebra, which all sprout from the text. The film has a happy atmosphere, greatly helped by the vivid colors and Zander Amy’s rustic, yet lively music. Smith’s strongest point in animation is her command of perspective, event though she’s no Georges Schwizgebel.

‘Sandburg’s Arithmetic’ is a charming little film, but no more than that. But then again, it doesn’t aim to.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Sandburg’s Arithmetic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sandburg’s Arithmetic’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 6

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

Dutch master animator Michael Dudok de Wit came into presence with this short, made as an artist at residence at the renowned Folimage animation studio in France.

In this film Dudok de Wit already establishes his trademark command of light and shadow. The setting is a monastery bathing in Summer sunlight. In fact, all background artwork, done by Dudok de Wit himself, is gorgeous. The film has a very simple premise (a monk wants to catch a fish), uses no dialogue, and knows a simple character design and excellent comic timing. Yet, the film is not a gag film, but a rather poetic meditation on fanaticism.

The monk’s movements are echoed by Serge Besset’s excellent score, which uses variations on the tune of la folía, based on those by baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli. Music and movement are in perfect tune and form another layer of delight. Unfortunately, the film ends rather puzzling, and it’s a little as if Dudok de Wit couldn’t dream of a more proper ending to his otherwise delightful short.

Watch ‘The Monk and the Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Monk and the Fish’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 3

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is the second of only three films in Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’-series, which apparently should have existed of 140 different shorts.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language‘ this is a film about sex. The short uses the same white characters as ‘The Discovery of Language’, and takes place in 2,000 years B.C. The short tells about a man who doesn’t manage to get sex, because he’s beaten again and again by other men.

Then the man uses his own penis as a pen, writing ‘The penis (pen is) mightier than the sword’. The invention of writing earns him a multitude of women to have sex with, but it won’t last.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language’ ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is essentially a silent film, with intertitles. Mulloy’s animation is simple and crude, and makes effective use of cut-out techniques. The result is a strange mix of sex, violence and absurd humor.

Watch ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Discovery of Language’ is ‘episode 10’ of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’, which in real life only consists of three films, of which this one is the first.

The film series uses Mulloy’s typical crude black and white style, enhanced by reds to depict blood. But unlike his other films, his characters are not black blots of inks, but white.

The short tells about a primitive tribe of women, 1,000,000 b.c. who discover letters in the soil, which together form the word ‘vagina’. As soon as they realize the meaning of the word they create their own Fall of Man, covering their crotches with skirts, and forbidding masturbation. Meanwhile, the men are on a similar quest to form the word ‘Penis’, but they are too stupid to fulfill the task.

The crude humor of this short is enhanced greatly by the effective soundtrack, featuring excellent music by Alex Balanescu.

Watch ‘The Discovery of Language’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Discovery of Language’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is the most critical of Mulloy’s ‘Ten Commandment’ films.

This short tells about Hank, an honest worker in ‘Joesville, at the wrong side of the Mississippi’. Hank works at a building site, and all his colleagues are stealing stuff (in a rather absurd sequence of images), but he won’t.

When crisis hits Joesville, Hank ends on the street, while all his colleagues mysteriously have built homes for themselves…

The town of Joesville would return in the episodes ‘Remember to Keep the Holy Sabbath Day’ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness’

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating:

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’ is the fourth of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The Ten Commandments films’. This short tells about two astronauts, Tex an Mary Lou, who have feelings for each other, which they don’t express, because of their questionable marriages on earth.

This seems like a more critical episode than ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill‘, but Mulloy spoils it by an absurd postlude involving flies.

The black and white ink drawings are enriched by bright yellows and reds to depict flames of desire

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Chuck Russell
Release Date: July 29, 1994
Stars: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Jeni
Rating: ★★★★½

Based on the comic book series of the same name ‘The Mask’ was originally conceived as a horror film, but was redrawn as a comedy-fantasy, leaving the comic’s violence behind, but retaining some of its dark overtones. The resulting film turned out be a great example of the animation renaissance that were the late 1980s and early 1990s.

‘The Mask’, of course, is a live action movie, but like that other, very influential live action feature, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘The Mask’ takes its inspiration from 1940s classic cartoons. The most obvious influence is Tex Avery: we can see the Avery wolf as a statue in Stanley’s apartment, where our hero Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) watches an excerpt from Avery’s ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’ (1943). The Mask later mimics the wolf scene at the Coco Bongo Nightclub, when watching his love interest Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz) perform. Another Avery reference is the ridiculously long car in which the Mask arrives at the club.

Other influences come from Warner Bros. cartoons: during the transformation scene Stanley turns into a whirlwind, which is clearly inspired by the Tasmanian Devil. To make sure, the film makers show a pillow with Taz’s likeness on Stanley’s couch during this scene. In some scenes The Mask has some character traits in common with the early loony version of Daffy Duck, and in one scene, The Mask behaves and talks like Pepe le Pew, Chuck Jones’s lovesick skunk.

But The Mask has most in common with Bugs Bunny: both characters are very confident, always ready to turn threat into comedy, both kiss their enemies, both have an ability to produce props out of nowhere, and both put on highly dramatic fake death scenes. The Mask’s death scene is a particular highlight of the film, with references thrown in to Aunt Em, Old Yeller, Tiny Tim and Scarlet O’Hara. During this scene even a fake audience stands up – another nod to Tex Avery.

The Mask’s cartoony antics were realized by computer animation, then still in its early stages. The computer animation was in the good hands of Industrial Light & Magic, also responsible for some other early milestones like the CGI in ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991), ‘Death Becomes Her’ (1992), and of course, ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993). In those days CGI got visibly better with every film, thus back then the computer animation in ‘The Mask’ was spectacular in its novelty. In ‘The Mask ’the computer animation effects are all deliberately cartoony and unreal, and even if not all effects have aged very well, they’re still nice to watch.

Of course, Jim Carrey himself adds a great deal to the cartoony character of The Mask. At the time he was known by most as ‘that crazy white guy’ in the black comedy series ‘In Living Color’, and, indeed, in ‘The Mask’ he can be too much, but he shifts between his more timid Stanley Ipkiss character, and the wild Mask very well. The rest of the cast is in fine shape, too. Cameron Diaz makes her acting debut as the gorgeous Tina Carlyle, and although she’s introduced as a sex bomb in a classic scene, showing off her legs and boobs, Diaz gives her character a remarkable gentleness and depth, beyond the cliche ‘babe’ character. This is a remarkable feat giving the few scenes the character is given. No wonder ‘The Mask’ set her off on a great acting career.

Peter Greene plays a delightfully scary villain, and Peter Riegert has the unfortunate task to be the only actor to play it straight as Lieutenant Kellaway. But he’s better off than Amy Yasbeck, who is adorable as Peggy Brandt, but this journalist is the least convincing character of the whole movie. Special mention has to go to Max, the dog who plays Stanley’s dog Milo, and who manages to make this side character an entertaining addition to the cast. But even minor characters, like Dorian’s henchmen or the street gang are portrayed by fine actors.

Apart from the cartoon references the film breathes classic cinema, even though the story is set in a contemporary fictive metropolis called ‘Edge City’. First there are the cultural references. For example, the car Stanley Ipkiss loans, is an early 1950s Studebaker, at one point The Mask grasps a Tommy Gun popular with gangsters in the 1920s, he wears a zoot suit to the Coco Bongo Club, where Tina sings 1940s jazz hit ‘Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You’, and as Cuban Pete The Mask makes a complete police force doing the conga, an early 1940s dance craze. Second, the film noir atmosphere is highly enhanced by the lighting, as is the fantasy element with the film’s strong coloring.

Typically nineties are the environmental touches: the opening shot of ‘Edge City’ clearly shows a heavily polluted town, and when Stanley and Tina watch the sunset, this looks more like the Northern Lights, making Ipkiss remark “the methane emissions really pick up the colors”.

True to the source material, The Mask is not an entirely likeable character: he’s too grotesque, too creepy, and too maniacal for that. I don’t think anyone would have chosen a character wearing a bald green skull-like mask, if it had not already been in the original comics. In that respect it’s a puzzle to me that the film was followed by an animated series starring this character. In the film, Carrey mostly rescues the character from becoming appalling by using his comedy talents, but during the ‘love’ scene with Tina at the park he becomes genuinely frightening, despite the comic references, and one is relieved the cops rescue Tina from this all too insistent character.

Nevertheless, Carrey manages to make his nice, but all too timid pushover Stanley Ipkiss likable, and his transformation to a guy with guts believable. Apart from all the cartoon references, celebrating classic cartoon humor, ‘The Mask’ also manages to succeed in delivering its message: Be nice, but stand up for yourself, and don’t let people mess with you.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Mask’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Mask’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Isao Takahata
Release Date: July 16, 1994
Rating: ★★★

To start this film is not about raccoons, but about raccoon dogs, which, despite their similarity, are only distantly related to raccoon, being more akin to foxes. The story tells about a population of raccoon dogs living on the Tama hills in Southwest Tokyo. The raccoon dogs see their own environment giving way rapidly to the ever growing metropolis, and decide to fight back in order to save their homes, by reviving their old shape-shifting skills…

Apparently, the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) or Tanuki, as the Japanese call him, has been a subject of a long folkloristic tradition. In this folklore the Tanuki has magical powers, being able to shape-shift, but he’s often too lazy, and too distracted to use them. Another peculiarity of this folklore is the focus on the raccoon dog’s testicles, which have magical powers themselves.


These character traits are clearly visible in ‘Pom Poko’: the raccoon dogs are depicted as carefree, fun-loving characters, their testicles are clearly visible, and used in some shape-shift transformations. For example, in one scene an elderly raccoon dog transforms his testicles into a giant carpet, in another a group of raccoon dogs use their inflated testicles as parachutes.


The shape-shifting scenes lead to some remarkable sequences, some of which are very close to pure horror, like a scene in which a cop meets all kinds of people without faces. This would have been a very frightening scene, indeed, if it were not depicted rather playfully, focusing on the police officer’s rather silly-looking panic, instead of the horror of the visions.

Most impressive of the shape-shifting sequences, and the undisputed highlight of the film, is the goblin parade. Here, too, some of the images are genuinely scary, but again, the depiction remains on the light side. For example, there’s a long scene with two men discussing the supernatural at a bar, completely oblivious of the mayhem occurring behind them.


It’s interesting to compare ‘Pom Poko’ to other environmentalist film of the era, like ‘FernGully: The Last Rain Forest’ (1992). Compared to the earlier film, ‘Pom Poko’ is remarkably mature. There’s nothing of FernGully’s magical ‘healing power’, nor does the film need a supervillain. In ‘Pom Poko’ ordinary men, none of them intrinsically mean, form a threat enough to the little forest creatures.


Soon it becomes clear that the raccoon dogs cannot win, and we have to witness several tragic deaths of these critters. Some die in one desperate last fight, others disappear on a mythical ship to the netherworld, some blend in into human society, and still others keep on living in an urban environment, scavenging the suburbs. In the end, the raccoon dogs must admit that man’s ability to transform the environment is much greater than their own shape-shifting abilities. Yet, this conclusion comes with a feeling of sadness of what’s been lost. Like many other Studio Ghibli films, there’s a longing to earlier times in this film, and especially the raccoon dogs’ last trick, reviving the landscape of old, is one of pure nostalgia.


‘Pom Poko’ is a mature film, but it’s not without its flaws. The film is told by using the weak voice over device, and it has a rather episodic nature, covering several years. Thus the story moves on a leisurely speed, not really building up to a grand finale. Moreover, there are a lot of characters in this film, and we don’t follow one in particular, which scatters the viewer’s focus.

Another peculiarity is that the film uses three styles to depict the raccoon dogs: first, a very realistic one, which accounts for some very impressive naturalistic animation. Second, the most dominant one, in which the raccoon dogs are depicted as clothed anthropomorphic characters. And third, a highly simplified one, in which the raccoon dogs suddenly become flat comic book characters, especially when celebrating. To me, it’s completely unclear why this third style is even present, and during these scenes the animation is often crude and repetitive, relying on reused animation cycles.


What doesn’t help is that the film is very, very Japanese: the behavior and rites of the raccoon dogs are sometimes enigmatic, and there are a lot of Buddhist and Shintoist references that are completely lost on the Western viewer. In that respect it’s a surprise that foxes have the same character traits in Japanese folklore as in Western tradition: in ‘Pom Poko’ the foxes are sly tricksters, too.


‘Pom Poko’ may not be perfect, it still is a very interesting film on human-animal relationships, it provides a small window into Japanese folklore, and it certainly is a very humane and mature film, showing us that one doesn’t need villains for destruction, and that some very valuable things are getting lost in the march of progress.

Watch the trailer for ‘Pom Poko’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pom Poko’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Directors: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Release Date: June 15, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

When ‘The Lion King’ was released I went to see the film three times in a row. At the time I lived on the tiny Caribbean isle of Tobago, and I went three times, partly because there was little else to do, partly because the film would disappear from the screen in ca. five days, anyway, but most importantly because the film made a deep impression on me. Strangely enough, I hadn’t seen the movie since, so after 25 years it has become high time.


Luckily, the film holds up very well after all these years. Indeed, not only was ‘The Lion King’ the highest grossing animation film thus far on its release, the movie still is one of the most popular animation films of all time. For example, it takes place 34 at IMDb’s top rated movie, as the second animated movie, after ‘Spirited Away’ on place 27, checked on November 21, 2020).

In that regard ‘The Lion King’ can be seen as the pinnacle of the Disney renaissance, because it tops an excellent row of Disney features (‘The Little Mermaid’ from 1988), ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from 1990, and ‘Aladdin’ from 1992), while the subsequent Disney movies of the nineties, while still good, would not reach the same heights again, nor stir the same sensation as these first four features did.

According to Mark Mayerson in ‘Animation Art’ this was partly because Disney’s success “caused other companies to start producing animated features. This diluted the talent pool and forced up wages and budgets” prompting management to interfere more in the film making process. Mayerson also detects pretentiousness and a lack of warmth in these later pictures (Animation Art, p. 305).

What certainly didn’t help was Toy Story’s big hit in 1995, suddenly shifting the future of animation from traditional to computer generated animation, a process that more or less was completed ten years later, after which traditional animated features would become extremely rare, at least in the United States.

Indeed, even in ‘The Lion King’ one of the biggest stirs among audiences (including me) was the computer generated stampede of wildebeests. This tour-de-force of computer animation was an impressive feat on the big screen, and though computer animation has been pushing the envelope ever forward since, the scene still holds up today, interestingly partly because the wildebeests are based on hand drawn designs.

There are more technical stunts to be found in ‘The Lion King’, both aided by the computer and not. Especially the opening scenes are literally stuffed with them, showing a sequence of mind-blowing images of African nature to the song ‘The Circle of Life’.

But much more impressive in the end is the character animation, which is top notch throughout, and which has an apparent effortlessness to it that never ceases to amaze. Especially the work by Andreas Deja and his team on Scar is impressive, making him a worthy successor of that other outstanding feline villain of the silver screen, Shere Khan (Jungle Book, 1967), greatly helped by his voice artist Jeremy Irons, who gives the character the perfect mix of self-pithy, sarcasm and sinister slyness.

Another stand out in the voices are Mufasa’s voice, which is deep and commanding, yet fatherly and compassionate, and which is provided by James Earl Jones of Darth Vader fame. Yet another is Whoopi Goldberg as the leader of a villain trio of hyenas.

Being a nineties Disney film, ‘The Lion King’ of course is a musical, a genre that certainly is not my favorite, but I must admit that Elton John’s and Tim Rice’s songs hold up very well, greatly aided by the imagery. ‘The Circle of Life’, as said, makes an impressive opener; ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ is spiced by very bold colors, and stylized background art (as well as anteaters, which do not occur in Africa – a strange and unnecessary error); Scar’s song ‘Be prepared’ is accompanied by evil greens and purples in a clear echo of Maleficent in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959), and the love ballad ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ is rescued from sappiness by the inclusion of Timon and Pumbaa mourning the loss of their friend. All these songs propel the story forward, none more so than the best song of all, ‘Hakuna Matata’, which neatly changes the infant Simba into the adult one.

Which brings me to the main reason the film still is a great classic: it’s told so well. The pace of the film is almost flawless, with exciting and more relaxing scenes distributed in perfect fashion. The only implausible scenes come at the end of the film: first there is Rafik’s all too simple cure of Simba’s guilt complex. I bet many psychiatric patients would die for such a quick resolution of their youth inflicted mental problems. Moreover, this scene includes a very unconvincing mystical dialogue between Simba and his deceased father. The finale uses two little too evident symbols of change and renewal (fire and rain), and how Simba manages to turn the wasteland of his kingdom into a prosperous country again, remains an utter mystery.

Nevertheless, the guilt that haunts Simba makes him an interesting and relatable lead character – like Aladdin he isn’t a flawless hero. And while it’s understandable he embraces Pumbaa’s and Timon’s relaxed lifestyle, it clearly cannot cure him from the haunts of his past, which he just has to face in the end, which means he has to overcome his biggest fears and insecurities.

It’s a great feat that the film makers have managed to weave such a deep theme into the more classic usurper tale, which is notably dark: we watch both a murder and a dead body on the screen, in what must be the most harrowing scene in a Disney animation film since the death of Bambi’s mother in ‘Bambi’ (1942), the film with which ‘The Lion King’ has most in common: both follow the main protagonist in his youth and in his adult life, both depict a very romantic concept of nature, and both have ‘the circle of life’ as their main theme, with ‘The Lion King’’s opening and closing scenes being undisputed echoes of the closing scene of the classic from the 1940s.

Because ‘The Lion King’ is a rather serious tale, it’s a little low on comedy. Indeed, there are very few real gags in this film, one of them unusually self-parodying: at one point a caged Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) starts singing ‘it’s a small world after all’, which immediately prompts Scar in an anxious ‘No, no, anything but that!’. The other great gag of the movie is when Timon refers to the sad Simba as ‘He looks blue’, on which Pumbaa replies ‘I’d say brownish gold’. That said, the film is absolutely balanced in its mix of humor and drama, and never becomes heavy-handed.

In all, ‘The Lion King’ has hold up after these 25 years, and has his rightful place as one of the greatest films of all time, animated or not. And I seriously wonder why a remake was at all necessary or welcome, for in my opinion the original cannot be topped.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Lion King’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Lion King’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Jeff McGrath
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 11, 1994
Rating: ★★★½

‘Joking the Chicken’ is all about humor. It all starts nicely with a spoof on ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’, now with the invention of humor instead of violence (in fact the invention of humor looks surprisingly like a similar scene in ‘La guerre du feu’ (Quest for Fire) from 1981).

The episode features a dorky bespectacled little stand-up comedian called Iggy Catalpa, who isn’t at all funny, but oh so politically correct. Enter an enigmatic manager who mysteriously turns the failing comedian into a star, forcing all comedy into being politically correct on the way.

It’s clear where the makers are heading, which is nicely summed up during the episode’s finale, in which Duckman holds a powerful speech that not only holds up today, but is even more necessary than ever.

Yet, the episode is hampered by a lack of substance story-wise, and by the reapparance of Duckman’s arch nemesis, King Chicken (see ‘Ride the Highschool‘), who is a much less interesting character than the makers want him to be.

Most strange is a 1930s-like musical number sung by the manager accompanied by Cornfed on the piano. Duckman isn’t impressed, and we are neither, because this number is rather trite than funny, and only manages to emphasize the obsolescence of the style.

Thus ends the first season of Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. It was clear that there was more to do with the character, thus three seasons would follow, and the series lasted until 1997.

Watch ‘Joking the Chicken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 13
To the previous Duckman episode: About Face
To the next Duckman episode: Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.

‘Joking the Chicken’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 4, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

‘About Face’ is one of the deepest of the Duckman episodes, and together with ‘Psyche‘ and ‘American Dicks’ forms the highlight of the first season.

Despite the usual dose of absurd humor and fast verbal wisecracking, the episode is actually moving, and knows an unexpectedly touching and somber ending, a very rare feat in both animated series and television comedy, indeed.

In this episode Mambo accidentally swallows a model of the titanic, which prompts Duckman to call 911. He immediately falls in love with the sweet voice on the other side of the line, and when she calls back, he immediately sets out to date her. Her name turns out to be Angela, and she is the sole person with whom Duckman not only feels like a good person, but also behaves like one.

Problem is, she’s “facially challenged” as Cornfed puts it, not to say hideously ugly (this trait is played out grotesquely, with people becoming terrified, fainting and fleeing when she walks by, echoing the skunk gags in Tex Avery’s ‘Little ‘Tinker’ from 1948). But then she decides to change all this…

This is one of the Duckman episodes deepening the character of the series’ protagonist, and actually make the audience feel for him. Notwithstanding, the episode contains plenty of comedy, with as highlights the scene in which Duckman is holding a telephone conversation with his beloved while his house burns down, and the scene in which Cornfed and his own date are mime dancing to no music.

Watch ‘About Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 12
To the previous Duckman episode: American Dicks
To the next Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken

‘About Face’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 28, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

In what is arguably one of the most inspired Duckman episodes of all, Duckman is the unlikely star of a reality television show called ‘American Dicks’, a spoof on the television series Cops, which first appeared on television in 1989, and still runs.

In this episode Duckman suppossedly is followed by a cameraman with a hand-held camera, which leads to scenes with odd staging, distorted body parts, as Duckman and the others repeatedly talk into the camera, and even animated backgrounds, a rare feat since the early 1930s.

Moreover, the images are more often than not in constant motion, suggesting camera movements and even walking. This is done with such skill that the ‘documentary camera style’ is evoked very convincingly, despite the looney images within them.

This episode is one of the very few episodes in which Duckman veritably is a private detective, even if he turns out to be the worst and most oblivious one around, leaving it to Cornfed to solve the case.

What doesn’t help is that Aunt Bernice interferes with the program when she learns that the audience is predominantly male between the age of 20 and 55. Promptly, she advertises herself as wedding material. During the finale there are even severe closeups of her breasts and buttocks.

Even the kids get their moments in this episode, which is full of great gags, both in visually as in the soundtrack. A true classic.

Watch ‘American Dicks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 11
To the previous Duckman episode: Cellar Beware
To the next Duckman episode: About Face

‘American Dicks’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

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